I Dunnit

Craig LaRotonda/Revelation Studios

James Mullins is talking for the first time publicly about why he confessed — falsely — to killing a 19-year-old woman in Tempe a year ago.

His case made headlines for days this summer after Phoenix police revealed a link between the so-called Baseline Killer and the September 2005 shooting murder of Georgia Thompson. The Phoenix cops also said they had no evidence to connect Mullins to any of the Baseline cases.

With that announcement, Georgia became the first known murder victim of the serial predator, whose acts of seemingly random violence (including eight murders) over the past year or so have terrorized the Valley.

Georgia was shot to death from close range in a parking lot at her apartment complex on Mill Avenue, near U.S. 60.

On August 3, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office finally dropped a second-degree murder count against Mullins, as prosecutors and police ate crow in what had become a nightmare of a case.

In a phone interview from the Western Kentucky Correctional Complex, Mullins tells New Times that he devised his strange scam because he was facing more than 25 years in prison on enhanced theft and burglary charges when he first heard about Georgia's murder.

In a deep Kentucky twang, the 33-year-old inmate says he decided to "take my chances" on confessing to killing the Idaho native, who was working as a stripper at Scottsdale's Skin Cabaret when she died.

"I came up with this elaborate story, though I figured they would see right through it," he says, speaking of Tempe police detectives and county prosecutors who fell hard for his claim until the unexpected turn of events involving the Baseline Killer.

"I didn't know anything about the Baseline Killer until my lawyer told me [in July] that the cops had more information [about the Georgia Thompson case]," Mullins says. "That's when I knew it was over."

By "it," Mullins of course is referring to confessing to a murder he didn't commit almost 2,000 miles from his home in Paducah, Kentucky.

Actually, Mullins says Oklahoma City was the farthest west he had ever been before authorities flew him here from Kentucky last April to face the murder charge.

"I didn't even know Tempe was connected to Phoenix, or what Maricopa County was," he says.

Mullins recanted his confession after Phoenix police on the trail of the Baseline Killer confronted him about myriad inconsistencies in his story.

County Attorney Andrew Thomas said of Mullins at an August 3 press conference, "He is a Kentucky career criminal who appears to have made up a story and sent us on a wild-goose chase."

True, but that's only part of this wild-goose chase of a yarn.

It remains to be seen if the recent arrest of ex-convict Mark Goudeau on suspicion of raping two south Phoenix women — a case police say they also can link forensically to the Baseline Killer — will lead to a resolution of Georgia Thompson's tragic case.

But that's another story.

As for James Mullins, few would argue that he's not a devious loser and a big fat liar.

Even his mother, Bonnie Patterson, who loves her son dearly, says of the false confession, "It wouldn't be the first time he's done something stupid."

But other than inventing a very tall tale, Mullins has nothing in common with John Karr, the pedophiliac teacher who sucked Boulder, Colorado, law enforcement (and the media) for a time into believing he'd sexually assaulted and killed little JonBenet Ramsey a decade ago.

And Mullins didn't just make something up after hours of grueling police interrogation. An infamous local example of that would be the Tucson Four, who separately were browbeaten into confessions by sheriff's deputies after the August 1991 murders of nine people at a Buddhist monastery 20 miles west of Phoenix. (Two Phoenix men later were convicted of committing the murders, and are serving life sentences.)

If he's to be believed (always a question), James Mullins "confessed" to killing Georgia for secondary gain. Follow his "illogical logic," as one Tempe cop put it recently:

Mullins says he figured to face a maximum of about 24 years in prison in Arizona if a jury convicted him of killing the young woman. And even that wasn't a given, considering no physical evidence against him, including DNA, had been found at the crime scene.

Because, well, he hadn't been there.

So, Mullins says he decided to take a jailbird's chance that Kentucky authorities would drop the pending cases against him after shipping him to Arizona to face the murder charge.

Eric Jackson, a police sergeant in Mullins' hometown of Paducah, Kentucky, suggests that "maybe in his mind he thought, 'After I cop to this homicide, I'll go to Arizona, prove I didn't do it, and walk. Then I'll run for the border before Kentucky gets their hands back on me.'"  

Sounds a bit far-fetched.

But Mullins says he knew while meeting with Tempe detective Susan Schoville in Kentucky last January 2 that he had a chance to sell his twisted tale.

"She was very eager," the inmate recalls. "It was like holding a carrot in front of a mule and leading it around. If she would have just looked into what I was saying . . . the shit I was putting out was obviously bullshit."

The detective's videotaped interviews with Mullins show that she repeatedly tipped Mullins off to key evidentiary details so that his logistically impossible confession might seem more plausible.

She's not the only one to blame for what happened.

Prosecutors routinely will ask investigators to do more legwork before they'll take a case to a grand jury. That's because indictments are easy to come by, but convictions at trial often aren't.

But Bob Shutts, the respected chief of the County Attorney's homicide bureau, disregarded his usual role as a prosecutorial gatekeeper, a devil's advocate. Instead, Shutts ran to get a murder indictment of Mullins just one day after the "confession" in Kentucky.

The abnormally speedy turnaround meant that he had to rely almost exclusively on Schoville's biased account of what had happened in Paducah.

For months afterward, the County Attorney's Office and the famous private attorney who signed on to prosecute Mullins continued to buy the oft-debunked notion that when someone says he dunnit, he must have.

That lawyer was former Arizona attorney general Grant Woods, whose presence as special prosecutor in the case admittedly was unorthodox. Woods signed on weeks after Mullins' indictment, and says he offered his services to Andy Thomas free of charge simply because he wanted to prosecute a difficult and interesting case.

"This case was anything but high-profile when I came on board, but I was just looking for a challenge," Woods says. "Sure, the red flags were there from the outset. We had a confession, but with big question marks. And even if Mullins was the right guy, how do you convict someone with just a confession? We thought for a while that we might have some physical evidence, but that didn't pan out. We couldn't even prove that Mullins had been in Arizona when the murder happened. Turns out the guy was just a Kentucky con man."

So, then, how did this manipulative Bluegrass State lowlife come up with an Arizona murder case to sink his paws into?

"It was the Maury show," James Mullins tells New Times. "That's where this all started."

Last December 27, tabloid talk-show maven Maury Povich hosted an episode titled "Shocking Sex Crimes and Cheating Men . . . Caught on Tape!"

One five-minute segment had nothing to do with a sex crime, cheating men or anything caught on tape, but Povich ran with it anyway.

"She looked like the all-American girl next door," the New York host intones, as the image of a pretty young girl wearing a velvet cap appeared on a screen behind him. "She was sweet, innocent, full of life. But the life of 19-year-old Georgia Thompson took an unexpected and tragic turn, a turn that involved topless dancing, shattered dreams and a bloody death. This is her story."

Povich describes how Georgia — a churchgoing small-town girl, he says — had needed money for college tuition. So, according to his script, the young woman's life had taken "an X-rated turn" when she went to work as a stripper in her newly adopted state of Arizona.

"That all would change on the night of September 8, 2005," Povich says.

He notes that Georgia had been shot to death in a Tempe parking lot, but never does say exactly where it was, an important omission in light of what was to follow.

A grainy black-and-white "dramatization" of the murder's aftermath depicts an actress playing Georgia bleeding on the ground from a fatal wound to her forehead.

When the camera returns to Povich in studio, he's sitting next to a weeping young man, described in a caption as Georgia's "boyfriend."

Povich urges anyone with information to call Tempe police detectives at a phone number shown on the screen during the segment.

"No one knows who murdered Georgia," he says, as schmaltzy music plays in the background.

The episode airs that December day inside the McCracken County Jail in Paducah, a city of about 26,000 in the western part of Kentucky at the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers.  

On December 28, Paducah police contact their counterparts in Tempe with potentially juicy information. Earlier that day, an inmate at the jail had called the West Kentucky Crime Stoppers phone line.

According to a call-in log, inmate Curtis Maxie was claiming that "James Mullins is responsible for a homicide in Tempe, Arizona. Mullins is currently lodged in the McCracken County Jail for burglary and theft. Caller advised that Mullins has been bragging and talking about the murder. . . . The victim is described as a white female, 18 to 25 years of age, and was a stripper in a nightclub. The crime occurred in September of 2005. Caller gave the number for the police department in Arizona."

A 34-year-old convicted sex offender, Maxie, like Mullins, was facing a long prison term under Kentucky's persistent felony offender law.

For motivations that soon would reveal themselves in four words — let's make a deal — Maxie indicated he would be willing to chat with investigators about what he had allegedly heard from Mullins.

How he possibly could have learned the phone number of the Tempe Police Department's detective division from his Kentucky jail cell might have raised immediate concerns among investigators. But it didn't.

The tip thrilled Tempe detective Schoville, who had watched the trail in the Georgia Thompson murder case grow cold soon after the young woman's murder.

Schoville had been the case agent since shortly after a resident of the Saddle Club Apartments came upon Georgia's lifeless body in the complex's north parking lot.

Georgia's red Grand Prix was parked near her body. She still had its keys clutched in her left hand.

The postmortem revealed that Georgia's killer had shot her once in the back of the head — not into her forehead as the creepy Povich show reenactment had suggested.

Georgia's purse and cell phone were missing.

According to an assistant medical examiner, she had not been sexually assaulted and had died instantly.

One spent bullet shell casing lay on the asphalt near the body.

The victim was wearing an orange tee shirt with the words BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME silk-screened onto it.

Detective Schoville had worked the case hard, but none of the leads amounted to much. The investigation of Tempe's third homicide of 2005 was at a standstill when Curtis Maxie called Crime Stoppers almost four months after the murder.

Sue Schoville and another Tempe detective, Trent Luckow, flew to Kentucky on December 30. The following day, New Year's Eve, they met with Maxie at the Paducah Police Department for about six hours.

In one of his varying accounts, Maxie said he and Mullins had driven 1,500 miles to Arizona in early September to try to work a $12,000 marijuana deal.

They had stayed in the Phoenix area for days with their Latino dope connections, but the expected transaction never happened.

Maxie told Schoville that on their last night in Arizona, he, Mullins and several local dopers had gone to a strip club. Mullins and a few of the guys left the club for a while at some point, and when Maxie later had stepped outside to see what was up, Mullins abruptly told him it was time to leave town.

Maxie said they had driven straight back to Paducah, allegedly not discussing anything that may or may not have transpired to make Mullins so antsy. Until their happenstance meeting inside the county jail a few days earlier, Maxie swore he hadn't spoken to Mullins since September.

It was there, inside cellblock two, Maxie said, that Mullins had told him for the first time about killing a girl in Arizona during their time there.

"Do you know the name of Georgia?" Schoville asked him.

"Sounds familiar," Maxie replied. "He [Mullins] might have said that. . . . I'm pretty much positive, if I'm not mistaken."

As a result of Maxie's "cooperation," a Paducah police officer persuaded a judge later on December 31 to reduce Maxie's bond and to dismiss a 200-day contempt-of-court charge he was serving.

Maxie was released from jail on January 4.

But his freedom lasted only a week before an irate prosecutor who had been kept out of the loop talked the judge into revoking Maxie's bail for continuing to fail to register as a sex offender.

When it was Mullins' turn to chat with the cops — on January 2 and 4 — he did indeed "confess" to killing Georgia Thompson.

But the holes in his accounts were gaping enough to drive a fleet of semis through — side by side.

As an example, Mullins first told Detective Schoville that he had agreed to pay a girl named Georgia $200 for sex at a motel a few blocks from an unnamed strip club. He said Georgia had pulled a gun on him as they were walking to the motel and demanded thousands of dollars he supposedly had on him for the unconsummated dope deal.  

Mullins said he had grabbed the weapon, and then he shot the girl in the face — in self-defense. He said he had tossed the gun into a Dumpster, before running around looking for his cohort, Maxie. He claimed he had found Maxie nearby in a car engaging in a sexual act with another stripper.

Mullins had urged Maxie to quickly say his goodbyes, after which the pair immediately split from Arizona.

That couldn't have been close to the truth.

For starters, Skin Cabaret (where Georgia had been working for a few months) is on Scottsdale Road, almost six miles from the murder site, the Saddle Club Apartments.

The reason for Mullins' mistake easily could have been found in a tape of the Maury Povich episode, which never had specified where Georgia had been killed.

Schoville's supervisors (she was on vacation and unavailable for comment for this story) describe her as normally the best interviewer in the six-person homicide unit. But in this instance, she wasn't about to let the facts get in the way of a "good" confession.

Instead, she let her suspect know exactly what she needed to hear, over and over. She even sketched little maps for him of the area near the crime scene, hoping to "jog" his faulty memory.

"It's always a concern when it's law enforcement that's making the confession," says veteran forensic psychiatrist Dr. Steven Pitt, tongue only slightly in cheek.

Tempe Sergeant Mike Hill says Schoville knew about the Povich show before she first went to Kentucky, though he's not sure she had seen it by then. But Sergeant Jackson of the Paducah Police Department tells New Times that Schoville asked him soon after arriving in Kentucky if the Maury show had aired inside the local jail.

He says he told her it had.

Jackson says he also soon informed the Tempe cops that several inmates at the county jail were saying Mullins had tried to recruit them to phone Crime Stoppers with the same story that Curtis Maxie eventually left on the message line.

"I'm not trying to throw Tempe under the bus," Jackson says, "because I think, in her mind, Susan was trying to do the right thing. It was Mullins who was doing the wrong thing. But I will say that it's easy for me to look back at this whole thing and go, 'Dammit, dammit, dammit!'"

It's a pity that every news story about Georgia Thompson's murder has referred to her as a "murdered stripper." Not because it's untrue — she had been dancing at Skin Cabaret, and she was murdered.

But Georgia was only 19 when she died, and, as such, was just starting to sort things out in her young life.

She was a friendly, sweet-faced girl from north Idaho, the sixth of nine children born to a middle-class Coeur d'Alene couple who got divorced during her youth.

As so often happens, the parental split was incalculably difficult on the children.

Though she continued to attend church, and was a good student at Post Falls High School for a while, Georgia's life started to spin out of whack as a teen.

Karen Blake, the mother of Georgia's first serious boyfriend, Jacob, told Tempe police that Georgia often ran away from home, and entered Job Corps in Mountain Home, Idaho, for a year when she was about 16. She earned her GED there.

Georgia attended classes at a community college near her hometown for a semester before dropping out.

How and when Georgia found her way to the world of exotic dancing is uncertain. But a girl named Tiffany who roomed with Georgia briefly in the summer of 2005 later told Tempe detectives that the pair previously had worked in a strip club on the Idaho-Washington border.

In late June 2005, Georgia packed up her Grand Prix and drove to Arizona for what she hoped was a fresh start.

She didn't have family here, and the only person she knew at all other than Tiffany was Mesa resident Kevin Pecora, whom she had apparently met on MySpace.

She and Tiffany moved into the Saddle Club Apartments, and both found work at the Hooters in downtown Tempe.

But Georgia worked there for less than a month before taking a job at Skin. She adopted the stage name "Felony," an odd choice for someone who never had been in any serious trouble with the law.  

Georgia dyed her hair blond and cut it shorter. Her trademark was a fake white flower that she always attached to one side of her hair. She had no tattoos.

On July 16, 2005, according to Tempe police reports, Georgia's father, Bill Thompson, asked management at the Saddle Club Apartments to let her out of her lease because an unknown male was stalking her.

Management declined to terminate the lease.

In early August, Tiffany moved out of the apartment.

A few weeks after that, Georgia met Kevin Pecora in person for the first time, at a Tempe Laundromat.

On August 23, Georgia and some family members traveled to Texas to visit her ailing maternal grandfather. They dropped her back off in Tempe on September 1.

About 8 p.m. on Wednesday, September 7, 2005, Georgia hooked up with Pecora and a fellow Skin employee named Kat at the Acme Roadhouse in Tempe.

About 45 minutes later, the two women drove a few miles up Scottsdale Road to Skin in Kat's car. That fact would loom large in the shoddy account James Mullins later sold to authorities.

Georgia left her own car in the Acme parking lot.

The women had expected to work until Skin closed at 2 a.m., after which Georgia planned to spend the night at Pecora's apartment.

They signed in to work at 8:50 p.m. But business was slow, and she text-messaged Pecora at 11:41 p.m., "I'm leaving in 30 minutes."

Pecora didn't respond. Later, he told police he had fallen asleep at his apartment and missed her text-message and a subsequent phone call.

Shortly after midnight, a bouncer at Skin escorted the women to Kat's car. Georgia expressed frustration to Kat on the short trip back to her own car that she couldn't reach Pecora.

Kat later told police that she had seen her friend leave the area alone in her own car.

At 12:16 a.m., Georgia text-messaged Pecora, "So much for tonight."

Her home at the Saddle Club Apartments was about a five-minute drive from the Skin Cabaret.

About 12:30, two people inside the apartment complex heard one gunshot.

Minutes later, another resident decided to go to a nearby Circle K for cigarettes. The man was on foot in the north parking lot when he came upon a woman's body on the asphalt.

He leaned over and asked her if she was okay.

Then he saw the blood seeping out of her head.

It was Georgia Thompson.

The man sprinted back to his apartment, where his fiancée called 911 at 12:58 a.m.

Detective Susan Schoville was assigned as lead investigator. A veteran of more than 20 years on the Tempe force, Schoville had been working homicides for about five years and, according to her supervisors, she had solved every last one of them.

But the trail to Georgia's killer was cold.

Then, like manna dropping from heaven, Curtis Maxie called Crime Stoppers with some serious dish on fellow con James Mullins.

Curtis Maxie is alone in an interview room at the Paducah Police Department before the arrival of Tempe detectives on December 31 of last year.

Maxie is a thick black man in an orange jail-issue jumpsuit. His legs are shackled, though he's not handcuffed. He has spent about half of his 34 years behind bars.

Soon after his interview begins, Maxie blurts, "I didn't know if it was true or not, what happened down there. He say he murdered somebody."

"Who?" Schoville asks.

"James Mullins. . . . We was there 'round about September. That's why I was surprised to find out because I was down there with him."

Maxie dives into a convoluted story about driving to Arizona with Mullins in a white Cadillac during early September to buy marijuana.

He says they had stayed in the desert with "somebody [Mullins] knew" for about five days, during which time they'd partied constantly.

Maxie claims he hadn't heard about the murder in question until Mullins copped to it in jail.

"If it happened, I want to know about it cuz someone could have seen us together," he says, trying to explain his rationale for contacting Crime Stoppers.

Maxie says Mullins told him, "'You know what we did in Arizona? I murdered this broad down there.'"

"What did he say regarding that particular 'broad'?" Schoville asks him.

"He just said he killed a broad. He didn't go into the details. I [knew] she was white, that's all I knew."  

Maxie soon adds that the victim apparently had been a stripper, and the murder happened in "a city that start with a T."

"Tempe?" the detective asks.

"Yeah," Maxie replies. "I don't know whether somebody tried to rob him or what."

Listening in from another room is Paducah police Sergeant Eric Jackson, and alarms already are ringing loudly in his head.

"For Maxie to say they ran together was a red flag," he tells New Times. "During several years of working narcotics here, I've never known those two to ever come on our screen. I never had an informant say, 'You got two big runners, Mullins and Maxie.'"

Maxie says he and Mullins had gone to a Tempe strip club on their last night in Arizona, along with "seven or eight" Latinos.

He says he can't recall the name of the club.

At first, Maxie says Mullins had left during the final evening "with a broad," possibly of Puerto Rican descent, and "with the other guys."

He says Mullins later returned to pick him up, and the pair immediately left for Kentucky.

"And you're saying the whole time you're driving back, he's not saying anything about this [murder]?" Schoville asks.

"He did a lot of dope on the way back," is Maxie's answer.

He then recalls Mullins had told him that "they" tried to rob him, meaning the Latino dopers.

"It's a murder for real?"

"It's New Year's Eve," Detective Luckow replies. "You think two cops from Arizona would come out here on New Year's Eve if it wasn't?"

"I got a dead girl on my hands," Schoville tells the inmate. "Did he say how he killed her?"

Maxie doesn't answer. He's not saying much, even when he's talking.

Maxie does tell the cops about a pending plea offer in his own criminal case, which calls for him to serve 10 years. He says he's not going to take it.

Maxie then volunteers something:

"I think he said he shot her."

Expanding his yarn, Maxie says he had stayed at the strip club almost until closing, 2 a.m., and that he had spent $1,000 on dances in the VIP room.

Schoville pushes Maxie to provide names of any of the Hispanic men they had been with.

Sounding anything but convincing, he dredges up the name "Carlos." "Right now, you're not lying very well," the detective tells him.

Detective Luckow throws in a question that, in hindsight, was prescient.

"Did Mullins ask you to call?"

"No, he don't even fuckin' know," Maxie replies, very quickly. "I called to see, did it happen?"

Schoville pulls out a sheet of business cards and asks Maxie if he recognizes any of them. Maxie points to a card as maybe being familiar.

"The one that says Skin?" she asks him.

"Might have been," he shrugs, "I don't know."

That's good news for the detectives.

Schoville asks him if the names Salvador or Santana ring a bell.

"Something like that," Maxie replies.

"He didn't say it was Carlos or Santana or whatever?" the detective asks, perhaps flashing on the song "Black Magic Woman."

"I don't know," says Maxie.

His account keeps changing: Maxie now says Mullins had returned to the club with just two other men, not the seven or eight with whom he'd left.

"He said, 'Let's go,'" Maxie says.

"Like he was pissed?"

"Yeah. He said, 'Fuck them. Let's go.'"

"Fuck her or fuck them?" Schoville asks.

"Fuck them."

Schoville asks again about the woman who had left the club with Mullins.

"I didn't see them [leave]," Maxie says, disregarding what he had said earlier about the Puerto Rican girl.

The Tempe cops ask the inmate if he would wear a hidden wire and try to get more admissions from Mullins back on the cellblock.

Maxie insists that "if I don't get my freedom, I ain't gonna do it."

Sergeant Jackson comes in to tell Maxie, "I doubt if I can make your felony go away today," but he adds that he may be able to get a judge to reduce Maxie's bond and dismiss the contempt case if Maxie comes through for them.

Maxie says he's worried for his own safety and reputation if his budding role as a police snitch is revealed.

"Yeah," Jackson retorts. "You're really gonna be frowned on for putting a guy who murdered a 19-year-old girl behind bars."

Jackson leaves to track down the judge at home in Paducah. He returns later and announces that the jurist — an ex-police detective — tentatively has agreed to set aside the contempt charge and lower the bond.  

"You do your part, you get your deal," Detective Luckow tells Maxie.

If the inmate can come up with fresh admissions of guilt from Mullins and $650, he'll be a free man, at least for a while.

About 90 minutes later, Maxie is back from his mission and at the police station with Detective Schoville. She's having a hard time hearing some of the tape-recording between him and Mullins, and asks him to fill in the gaps.

"He said he did it," Maxie says. "He said he killed her. He said she tried to rob him."

Sergeant Jackson says he learned soon after the taping that other jail inmates were coming forward to say Maxie had shown the recording device to Mullins back in the cellblock.

Mullins doesn't deny it.

"If you listen to the beginning of the tape," he tells New Times, "you'll hear me ask him, 'Was that [the cops you were talking to]?' That's when he showed me the wire. You'll hear these pauses in our conversation. We was writing stuff back and forth to each other."

A lanky, laconic man with thinning hair and a crooked grin, James Mullins brings up Curtis Maxie's name within seconds during his own interview on January 2 of this year, saying he had just noticed his cellmate's name on an in-and-out sheet.

"You don't think I've raped somebody, do you?" Mullins asks for no apparent reason, probably referring to a previous Maxie conviction for attempted rape.

Mullins soon explains that he and Maxie had gone "down to Texas together, we went to Arkansas together. Was in Arizona together."

Schoville asks him, "When did you guys go to Arizona?"

"September. . . . We was in Arizona on the fifth."

Mullins tells of driving to Tempe with Maxie in a white Cadillac. There, they'd waited in a rest area for some dope sources to show up, which they had.

Mullins denies he was carrying a gun, and says he had never seen Maxie with one on their trip to the desert. (That's precisely the opposite of what Maxie had told the cops.)

He claims some "Mexicans" had led him and Maxie to an "old ranch house" in the middle of nowhere, where they had stayed for four or five days.

Mullins volunteers that "we went into town on one of the last days. Went out and partied. Some shit went down, and we left."

"Talk to me," Schoville says. "What happened?"

"Maybe I should have a lawyer or something because I kinda got a feeling what this is."

Schoville lights the first of many cigarettes for Mullins.

"It was an accident," the inmate says. "It wasn't supposed to be like that."

But instead of allowing Mullins to tell his story, the detective then speaks for almost a minute about doing the right thing before saying, "There's other people that were there, other people that saw you there. Obviously, there's DNA that's involved, things like that . . ."

Mullins keeps a poker face.

He has been trying to sell a story built on lies.

Now he knows that Schoville is using the same tactic.

"Nobody's gonna believe me," Mullins tells her. "Here you got this innocent-looking stripper, you know what I mean? Well, she wasn't quite too innocent."

"You just don't seem like a cold-blooded killer to me," Schoville replies.

"Lord, no!" Mullins answers with a remarkably straight face. "I was on the parent-teacher association for my fiancée's daughter!"

Fifteen minutes into the interview, the detective asks him, "Who's the girl that you met?"

"Georgia," Mullins says calmly.

The hooks are set.

"She gets off work [at the strip club]," he tells Schoville, "we're walking down the street. I guess she was wanting my money, I don't know. She pulled out a gun. When she pulled out a gun, I took it from her."

Far afield from Maxie's version, Mullins says a Mexican guy and Maxie had left him alone in the strip club, which was when he had negotiated with Georgia for sexual favors.

"Did she have any other jobs or was going to school?" Schoville asks.

"She said she was a waitress somewhere, I think," Mullins says, recalling the part of the Maury segment that shows the actress playing Georgia at a restaurant.

He says he had met Georgia on the street about a block from the club.

"Did she drive?" the detective asks.

"We never made it to a car. Not one time did we make it to any car whatsoever."  


Mullins says he was carrying about $8,000 in cash, and "she saw a lot of the money that I had on me."

He says Maxie had the Cadillac "about three blocks down the road. He was with another girl."

Mullins says he "ended up shootin'" Georgia.

"Where'd you shoot her at?"

"In the head. Had to be the front, because she was facing me."

That's also straight from the Povich show, which erroneously had depicted the victim bleeding from a shot into her forehead.

"I gotta be honest with you," the detective tells him, "there's a lot of issues that don't add up."

For sure.

Knowing Georgia had left the Skin Cabaret with fellow stripper Kat that night, Schoville asks Mullins if he'd seen her with any other woman.

"Not that I remember . . . I do remember her saying she had a boyfriend, though."

That's another Maury tidbit.

Schoville asks if Georgia had attempted to rob him in "a parking lot or an open street."

"I think it was an open street. I just ran."

Wrong answer.

Mullins insists he tossed the gun into a Dumpster before "I ran to Maxie, where Maxie was at, told him to get the girl out of the car because we had to go."

About half an hour into the interview, Detective Schoville launches into yet another riff:

"I need to give you some of my hand because you've been pretty honest with me. It didn't happen in an open street, okay? You guys moved quite a ways from the strip bar. I don't know how you did it, but I know you did because she was seen leaving the parking lot.

"You were there . . . Georgia leaves and goes to another parking lot where she was killed. It's not where you're telling me she was killed. . . . It's about a 10-minute drive. So it's not that you walked three blocks, okay? Something else happened in there if you can fill that in for me."

Mullins doesn't bite.

Scottsdale-based forensic shrink Steven Pitt says of the detective's interview technique, "The real dark side of this situation is that she's ignoring salient facts and only focusing on getting a confession. You can't pick and choose things you want to hear just because you have someone making a confession of some sort. But all this detective was thinking about was collaring the guy. Columbo, she's not."

Says Paducah's Eric Jackson, who observed the interviews, "Mullins had gotten where they were when he shot the girl all wrong. Obviously, that wasn't good. About the best scenario I could think of was that maybe he's holding off telling everything trying to get a better deal."

Two days later, on January 4, Detective Schoville gets a second shot at breaking Mullins down.

"You told me it happened outside the strip club," she tells him. "It didn't. It happened quite a ways away. . . . There's how you even got to her apartment complex."

That's the first mention of the true murder site. Again, it has come from the cop, not the suspect.

"You're saying it happened three blocks away, and it really happened several miles away, and that's the void that's gonna make you kind of look like you're more cold-hearted. . . . So did you follow her when she got dropped off to pick up her car at the Acme Roadhouse? Did you get dropped off? Did she say, 'Hey, follow me?'"

Mullins mumbles a non-response.

The detective says she would like to "clarify" a few things, such as "just after the shooting, where was the car at? I mean, was it in the same parking lot?"

"Which car?" Mullins asks, a fair question since he never has mentioned being anywhere in a car with Georgia.

"The car you left in."

"The car that I left in? I suppose it was probably still there."

"No, no," Schoville says.

Grasping at straws, Mullins now says he had stopped somebody on the street soon after murdering Georgia Thompson:

"I paid them to take me back. He just took me back to wherever he thought it may be."

"You just said you got out of her car," Schoville says.

"Of a car," he says.

"Was she in the car with you?"


Now, we're talking.

"She actually drove you?"

"Alone. Yes. She picked me up afterwards. . . . When we left the club, she picked me up."  

"Did she tell you she's taking you back to her place?" the detective asks. "Where did you think you were going?"

Mullins sighs, and rubs his face with his left hand. He doesn't even try to answer that one.

Before Schoville shuts down the interview, she summarizes the state of Mullins' "confession."

"You've already told me she left, came back and picked you up. . . . I'm assuming that you knew you would [go] to her place. And it all happened right there, out in the parking lot. And you even said that you had ran away after it happened. 'Cause obviously you're scared because it wasn't supposed to happen. You even vomited a couple of times. And then you ran around and flagged somebody down, and then you ended up back at the strip club. And basically drove straight back to Kentucky."

That soliloquy sums up this unfortunate exercise in interrogation, says Dr. Pitt.

"Mullins gave her multiple opportunities to say, 'Whoa. This guy may not be our guy,'" Pitt explains. "A chunk of confessions come just like this, with police injecting the facts of a case into an interview. You have this con and an unsophisticated interviewer. He's playing her. The perfect formula for a screw-up."

With the detective's invaluable assistance, Mullins had his story and he would stick to it for the next seven months.

He even went so far as to tell his mother in jailhouse phone conversations that he had killed a girl in self-defense, which led some police eavesdroppers to conclude that he had to be guilty.

"He did tell me the same thing he told the police," Bonnie Patterson tells New Times. "It sounded ridiculous, and I told him straight-up that I knew he hadn't killed anyone. My daughter said James must have been brain-dead when he came up with this one. He's really not a bad person, but he's not the best person in the world as far as what he does with his life, and the messes he's gotten himself into."

One of the enduring mysteries of this extraordinary case is why prosecutors went to the grand jury just one day after Mullins' half-baked confession.

It wasn't as if the jailed murder suspect was going anywhere.

"We recognized we were a long way from reasonable doubt or having a rock-solid case," Tempe sergeant Mike Hill tells New Times. "[But] we were at probable cause. From what the County Attorney was hearing, they had enough to charge it, to take it to a grand jury and get an indictment."

The County Attorney's Office declines to comment publicly on why prosecutors practically sprinted to the grand jury in this case, which predictably returned its murder indictment against Mullins.

Detective Schoville never stopped investigating the case after the indictment. She twice returned to Kentucky, and spent time in rural Arkansas, Mullins' other stomping ground. She also spent hours re-interviewing witnesses in Arizona, hoping in vain to find someone who would pick Mullins out of a photo lineup and put him in Arizona.

Nothing fell her way.

Sergeant Hill says a healthy "internal debate" about the viability of the case against Mullins began almost immediately.

He says serious questions arose about the lack of physical evidence linking Mullins to the murder, about the fact that Maxie and Mullins apparently had been unable to describe the route they had taken to Arizona, where they had stayed when they got here.

Hill says he told Schoville at one point, "'You believe the guy's interview. Let's go back and find the corroboration. We need more than just this guy saying he did it.' She understood that and recognized that."

But Hill concedes that he never did watch the telltale Mullins confession tapes until "the problem arose."

By "problem," he means the stunning and unexpected link of the Baseline Killer to Georgia Thompson's murder.

In February, Schoville flew to Arkansas to interview members of James Mullins' family, as well as an ex-girlfriend and others.

Mullins' estranged girlfriend told Schoville that he was a tweaker who had cooked meth in her home, but she never had known him to sell it.

More on point, she also recalled that Mullins' father had taken him to the Little Rock bus station on the afternoon of September 5 for a five-hour trip back to Kentucky.

That presented a timeline problem, if true, because both Maxie and Mullins had described a four- or five-day visit in Arizona that had ended early on September 8.

Bonnie Patterson later told Schoville that she had paid for the bus trip because her son was broke, and police reports show she provided the detective with her credit card bill to prove it. A Greyhound bus official also confirmed the transaction.  

Trouble was, no one in law enforcement can account for the whereabouts of Mullins or Maxie for the crucial period from September 6 until after Georgia Thompson's murder.

It was into this murky milieu that former attorney general Grant Woods stepped last spring, weeks after James Mullins' arrest for allegedly murdering Georgia Thompson.

Grant Woods has successfully worked both sides of the criminal-justice aisle, as a prosecutor and as a defense lawyer.

Woods says he offered his pro bono services to the County Attorney's Office well before Andrew Thomas appointed him as "special prosecutor" in the Mullins case.

In retrospect, Woods says, he probably didn't express himself as openly about the case's glaring shortcomings as he would have in a normal police/prosecutor relationship.

"I didn't think it was appropriate for me to come barreling in there and torpedo their case, even though I was very much aware of the problems," he says. "But I did believe that if Mullins was the right guy, his story that he shot her in self-defense — in the back of the head — was going to be a tough sell for him."

Woods says he knows all about the role that the Maury Povich segment certainly played in his case.

"James Mullins does fit the profile of an average Maury viewer," he says, chuckling.

After Georgia's murder, Tempe police routinely had entered data from the crime scene into a law-enforcement-only computer that can compare items found at different homicides. Phoenix police also had been submitting data from the Baseline Killer cases into the system.

The way things work in real life bears only the slightest resemblance to the instantaneous solutions that occur each week on television's CSI franchise. But the ability of law enforcement to piece things together scientifically definitely has evolved.

In early July, Phoenix police say they linked a key piece of Baseline Killer evidence to the crime scene in Tempe.

New Times is not revealing the exact details to maintain the integrity of that ongoing investigation, but on July 12, the Arizona Republic quoted Phoenix police commander (now assistant chief) Bill Louis as calling that evidence "irrefutable."

Nothing they knew of, the Phoenix cops said, tied James Mullins to any of the Baseline cases.

That week, Mullins recanted his confession, though he never did tell authorities what he now is saying is the real reason he had engaged in the exercise.

At the end of July, a team of five Tempe cops, including Sue Schoville, returned one last time to Paducah in a last-ditch effort to salvage their case.

But county prosecutors finally had seen enough, and Grant Woods filed a motion on August 3 to dismiss the case against Mullins.

"The County Attorney's Office did the right thing by dismissing," Woods says, trying to distance his own four-month involvement in the case as much as possible. "But I really believe that, even with all the real problems in the case up to that time, it could have said, 'Screw this guy, let's convict him on his own statements.' And we could have."

Now that's food for thought.

In the aftermath of a case that had gone south in a very public way, the Tempe cops retrenched and started to analyze what had gone wrong (it's uncertain if the County Attorney's Office engaged in similar introspection).

"I think if you look back, for us this was an anomaly, uncharted waters," says Sergeant Mike Hill. "Going into this, would you ever really think of [a false confession]?"

Commander Kim Shroyer adds, "Somebody killed this girl. If we had just jumped to the conclusion on the other side — 'That's B.S., this guy didn't do it' — we'd have been remiss as well."

Sergeant Dan Masters says of Detective Schoville, "This is certainly going to take a toll on her, personally and professionally. But that tells you what kind of person she is. She puts her heart and soul into it."

Authorities last month returned James Mullins to Kentucky, where he is serving the remainder of a prison sentence for bail-jumping. Curtis Maxie also is in prison — at a different facility. He was sentenced recently to 10 years.

Down the road, Mullins is also going to face those burglary and theft charges that he temporarily avoided during his memorable foray into Maricopa County's criminal-justice system.

"I'm going to be here for quite a while," Mullins says drolly of his residence behind bars. "I feel bad, and I do apologize for what I put on the family of that girl and on my own family. And, hey, man. I hope they finally catch that Baseline Killer."  

Maybe they have, maybe they haven't.

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